Growing up, Divine always felt different, like she couldn’t keep up. She was sensitive to light and noise and wore earplugs when she went out.
Looking back, the autism diagnosis was obvious, but it took 35 long years for doctors to confirm it – and for Divine to come to terms with it.
“I notice everything everywhere I go. My brain doesn’t filter anything out, as it apparently does in neurotypical brains. This causes chronic fatigue and frequent nervous system overwhelm although I have learnt how to protect my health now using various effective aids and strategies,” she says.
As well as learning coping strategies, Divine has found positives in being on the spectrum. “I’m very straight forward, literal and honest in communication,” she says. “I’m also hyperfocused and get a lot of work done because of that. People on the autism spectrum make excellent employees because of this ability. We come to work to work, not engage in social politics and the like.”
Eight years after her diagnosis, Divine doesn’t want to be defined by autism, but she does want people to understand it. “It’s just a different way of experiencing the world. It can come with extraordinary gifts for some, it can also be a very big struggle for many, and there are no two people that experience autism in the same way. My slogan is ‘Don’t assume, ask the aspies/autistics’.”
Divine welcomes questions about her autism and wants to start an open conversation about it, “It’s very much still a taboo word and topic – and because of the preconceptions that it’s a condition in boys only, there is virtually no dialogue about it at all regarding adults, and especially regarding women.”
One of the reasons women are diagnosed with autism later in life than men is that they practice ‘masking,’ where they pretend to be like other women to try to keep up. “It’s very tiring because you can’t ever really be yourself,” says Divine, who also has chronic fatigue and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
As well as the misconception that women don’t have autism, there’s also the unfounded idea that people with autism lack empathy. “It’s actually the case often that they have so much empathy that they need to block it, so it just appears like they have none. In reality, people with autism are very sensitive to the suffering of others,” explains Divine.
Earlier this year, Divine signed up for the online platform Mable and started working with her support worker, Nydia, who is a graphic designer and helps with the @AskTheAspie account.
Every week they meet up and Nydia assists Divine with photography, book events and her coaching business. “We’re really well matched in our professional goals and it feels like she’s backing me,” says Divine.
As well as being her biggest cheerleader, Nydia understands Divine is an individual. “I want people to keep an open mind and see a person for a person – not just as a disabled person. We’re all just trying to work it out and live our best lives,” says Divine, who will be celebrating International Day of People with Disability by sharing this article with her friends. “I’d like other people to explore the possibilities and get to know people with disabilities as individuals – never assume anything based on their diagnosis. Make friends with people with disabilities and consider hiring them in your company.”
QUICK TIPS FOR TALKING TO, OR ABOUT, PEOPLE WITH A DISABILITY
- Focus on the person, not the disability – they have the same passions for life as you do!
- Avoid language that implies pity, such as ‘suffering from’ or ‘struck down by their disability’.
- Educate your friends and family when they use derogatory language – the more we speak inclusively, the better for everyone.
- Don’t let fear of using the wrong language dissuade you from engaging with people with disability.
- If you’re unsure, simply ask the person with disability how they would like to be described.
For more information on Mable, visit: mable.com.au